Saturday 4 January 2020

To Show (or Not)

Recently, Mr Berry of Baccus 6mm fame mused publicly about the future of wargame shows and how they might be revived. It is not my place here to repeat the discussion, nor to criticise the organisers, traders, demonstrators, participation game creators, vendors of coffee and other comestibles and patrons of said shows, but to ponder on my own experience of them.

Firstly, let me be honest, I am not a great fan of wargame shows. I used to go to a fair few, when I lived in a part of the country where the density of shows was higher than it is near my current residence. I did, indeed, meet a few friends, occasionally, at said shows. But most of the time was spent wandering around the trade stands and looking at the participation games. The days were tiring, the food average, and the crowds could be intense.

I am, as you can probably tell from the blog, not a particularly extrovert person. While I disagree with most of what Sartre said and wrote, I do agree that ‘Hell is other people’, however abused and misquoted that trope might be. Indeed, if there were a Diogenes club for wargamers, I would probably be a founder member. I even find the Solo Wargamer’s Association a bit too social for my taste. Therefore, I suppose, I was never going to enjoy going to a wargame show, and possibly might even find the whole concept of ‘enjoying’ a show a bit of a mystery.

Living now in the outer reaches of the wargame world, north of Watford (actually, the outer reaches of more of less every world) I attend one show a year. I could, I suppose, go to more if I were willing to travel further for the experience, but, as hinted above, I do not find myself willing to expend time and energy in driving across the country in my spare time. I could probably more profitably spend the time tackling the lead mountain (which is, mysteriously, growing at the moment). So the one show which is more local to my current abode is the one I go to. And a nice show it is, too.

When I say the show is ‘nice’, I mean it is not over busy and that I can get to the Baccus stand and have a chat without being interrupted by crazed lunatics passing themselves off as wargamers wanting to buy toy soldiers for battles I have never heard of, or arguing the toss over whether there were lancers in the Khartoum campaign (seriously). I can wander around the book store without being eyed suspiciously, feeling that I should slip a couple of Ospreys up my jumper just to confirm the doubts of the observers. I can look at the demonstration games, although here more people are better, as I can observe without being engaged in conversation.

That said, shows have improved since the days I went to Salute in Kensington Town Hall. That was a crowded, ill-lit and chaotic venue, although the show organisers did their best to arrange everything neatly, the space in which they were confined was never going to make it anything else. A plus is that the wargame world seems to have discovered the use of soap and water, which is never a bad thing when in confined spaces with numbers of other people (Polemarch’s personal hygiene is like Caesar’s wife, of course). The use of Sports Halls as venues also means that a reasonable amount of space is available to move around, even if two people standing conversing face to face, both wearing large rucksacks, can still block the aisles.

Is there a future for shows? I rather hope there is, although I am not planning to increase my attendance. A great deal of effort goes into planning and executing them, as is also true of the games. Traders, of course, travel large distances to be there, hoping to sell sufficient of their wares to at least cover costs. And yet there does seem to be a worry that shows are past their best; that the glory days are gone and the future only holds bleak decline.

I will warrant that some things, perhaps, need to change. Demonstration games, to me, start to look a bit similar, even if their subjects and content are different. While there is only a limited amount of things that can be done with a (say) five foot by three foot table for a demo game, I do feel that something a bit different could be tried. Do they have to be always representations of historical battles? Must the figures and terrain always be bespoke and beautiful? Is there an option for a ‘real’ wargame?

Participation games might be better, but of course the facilitators of such are more limited in needing quick fire, easily understood rules and simple activities. Even so, the number of role playing games as participation games seems to be on the up, and the number of historically based games seems to be in decline. Of course, there is a balance to be struck between engaging the wargame periphery and impressing crusty old diehards like yours truly.

I would like to end on a positive note. I do appreciate all the effort that goes into putting on a show, and I am glad I made my sole pilgrimage of the year to my local one. I think shows do have a future, but perhaps some bits need to be re-thought. I know that some shows have lectures by local historians, which seems like a good idea. Some have painting workshops, which again might encourage the passing proto-wargamer to take the plunge. Perhaps these sorts of ideas could be spread more widely.

As the Estimable Mrs P keeps reminding me, wargaming is a hobby. Sometimes, at shows, it is a bit hard to see where the ‘fun’ bit gets a look in. Participation games seem to be rather serious, with the participants trying to win rather than enjoy themselves. Demonstration games seem to have headed for the worthy, with the often concomitant dull.

Naturally, your riposte might be ‘well, do it yourself, if you think you can do it better’. I doubt I would manage anything any better than current offerings, however; I am under no illusions as to my abilities in that department, as the photographs on the blog will show. So I shall stop pondering and retreat into my hole in the ground until next year.


  1. Hi,

    Where would be the best place now to pose questions about Polemos:SPQR since the downgrading of Yahoo! groups? I have put some questions up on the Baccus website, on the Yahoo! group e-mail and on an old SPQR blogpost: - which is best for you (if you still are willing to answer questions about it)?

    1. Probably here is the most likely to get seen, but not on older posts. Or email me directly: davidheading10 at (the swirly shift quote thing) gmail dot com.

    2. Many thanks, I have e-mailed you directly.

  2. I think my own experience of them has improved in recent years. I used to walk around them almost as if it were a museum or an art gallery, with the games the exhibits, the particpation games as the interactive exhibits, and the traders forming the gift shop. Now I approach it as more of a workshop - is there anything in this game or on this trade strand that can help me with any facet of my wargaming? is there anything I need to ask the presenter/trader to help me take that away? It has been a useful change in focus for me.

    1. I tend to wander around and have a look at stuff, but don't find too much in the way of inspiration. I did like the sea burst shells I saw the other year, made out of Perspex, but I have no use for them. Similarly, lighted tents and a tiny TV screen were innovative, but hardly for everyday wargaming (unless I'm seriously missing something). Cute, but not my style, I suppose.

  3. Here in the states, I always enjoyed the conventions. I love putting on a 'participation"game or 2 and enjoy 'participating" in them - I get to game with /against people other than my own group in games that my own group don't normally play. I have been introduced to several new rule sets that way. I enjoy seeing the ideas of others on how to approach scenery and terrain building and also seeing their painting. Finally I enjoy seeing the actual thing I want to buy and get a secret delight out of avoiding the mailing cost, which often doubles the price of buying anything online. But at 85, I am not going to any of the large shows anymore - just the local ones (< 2 hours drive either way). Shows unite the hobby in ways the internet cannot and I hope they keep improving for the foreseeable future.

    1. Ideas are great, but like wargame magazines, you have to look quite hard to find them,Ii find. Maybe it is just me, or maybe so many years of solo wargaming have jaundiced me totally.

      Mind you, the postage costs are a good thing to avoid I grant, so long as the difference isn't made up by travel costs...